HELENA — The Helena Dragon Boat Club has been part of Helena's sports and recreational community for over eight years and brought Helena its first official dragon boat in 2019. Now, the nonprofit gives back to the community by promoting fitness and inclusivity.
Since 2020, the group has held their virtual Big Sky Paddle Challenge for the month of July. Their initial challenge helped them fund their dragon boat, and now serves as an opportunity to have more people become a part of their group.
“It's really an opportunity for anyone to get out on the water. We always encourage water sports throughout the year. And so this is a way for anyone to sign up, it's virtual. So it's a way for them to be able to get out on the water, get some miles in over the month of July and, you know, compete in the challenge and be a part of our group here,” Natascha Robinson, club president said.
Dragon boating is made up of a team of 20 paddlers, a drummer, and a steersperson. The drummer position is mostly ceremonial, but they also serve as the eyes of the boat. Since they sit at the front and face the back of the boat, they are able to see the upcoming competition. However, the front two paddlers, or “the strokes” control the speed of the boat and dictate what the other paddlers do.
The sport made its way to the US through Canada, and has grown from there. Now, Montana has multiple dragon boat teams.
“I think our team has really grown in the last few years, kind of with Helena’s growth as well. But it's fun to just show other people the sport. It's a really pretty easy sport to do with there's not a huge barrier to entry. I think anyone can do the sport. It's just fun to kind of get a community together,” Emma Whitehead, treasurer and coach of the club said.
The Helena Dragon Boat Club has two teams, The Buzz, their co-ed team, and Queen Bees, their all-women team.
“Our team is mostly women. So that is kind of part of the reason we have a women's team. It's just nice to have a boat filled with women, and strong women, and just kind of us to be able to work together without any men around… you kind of show the strength that women have and women can really work together and into moving a boat,” Whitehead said.
The Helena Dragon Boat Club is always looking for new members to join.
“Really dragon boating is for everyone. What's really nice about being part of this team is none of us have ever been on a dragon boat before. Maybe one of our one of our team members, but really, it's a sport for anyone. You know, we're welcoming most people who have started this last couple years. They're new to the sport and are able to pick it up very quickly. Plus, we just have a really supportive team and just a lot of fun,” Robinson said.